Dallas Mavericks v Denver Nuggets

The Extra Pass: Four teams for three spots in West playoff race


Four teams. Three spots.

With a quarter of the season remaining that his how the bottom of the Western Conference shakes out.

(Minnesota is 4.5 games out of the mix but in the deep Western Conference where it likely takes 47 wins to make the playoffs, meaning they have to go 17-6 the rest of the way. I don’t see that as a likely outcome.)

That leaves Golden State, Dallas, Phoenix and Memphis all within three games of each other (and more than four games back from the conference’s top five, so those five are safe). One of those four teams will not have a chair when the music stops.

And it could be any of them.

Which one is most likely? Let’s look at their upcoming schedules — listed in the order they stand currently, including how many quality teams they play and how many they play against others in this foursome.

6. GOLDEN STATE (38-24) 13-7 10 4
7. PHOENIX (35-25, -2) 8-14 13 3
8. DALLAS (36-26, -2) 12-8 13 4
9. Memphis (34-26, -3) 9-13 13 3

What can you read into that?

• Golden State is in a relatively good spot. They have a three-game cushion over the nine seed and the easiest schedule from here on out. They don’t have any road trips that take them east of the Mississippi. Only two of their last seven games are against teams over .500. There are no guarantees but they are the most likely team to find their way into the postseason.

• Dallas plays a lot of good teams — and they have struggled against the elite in the league — but they also have the advantage of having most of their games at home, where they are 19-10 this season. If they continue on pace of winning two thirds of their home games and just go .500 on the road they are at 48 wins this season, which will almost certainly earn them a ticket to the postseason dance.

• That leaves the most likely outcome — either Memphis or Phoenix is not going to make the cut. Both have tough schedules and they play the majority of their remaining games on the road. However, Memphis is the better road team (16-11 this season to the 14-13 of Phoenix).

• Obviously the games against others in this foursome are key.

• There are a three of games between these teams in the final week of the season that could turn out to be huge:

April 12: Suns at Mavericks
April 14: Grizzlies at Suns
April 16: Mavericks at Grizzlies

Gallinari ready to take big role in new Nuggets offense

Danilo Gallinari, Jimmy Butler
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DENVER (AP) — Danilo Gallinari wants everyone to know this: His surgically repaired left knee, the one that took three procedures to fix and nearly two seasons to fully trust, no longer bothers him.

The Denver Nuggets forward doesn’t need to be on any sort of minutes restriction. He doesn’t need days off during the season. And he certainly doesn’t need to be coddled.

He’s Gallo again, the hard-to-guard Italian playmaker who can knock down the 3-pointer just as easily as drive to the hoop or even post up. He believes he will fit in quite nicely into new coach Michael Malone’s system.

“The thing I’m focused on is trying to get (this team) back to the same level that the Nuggets were when I got to Denver, when we were going to the playoffs easy. When we were clinching a playoff one or two weeks before the season was over,” said Gallinari, who was acquired in the 2011 blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. “We need to get back to that level.”

Almost seems so long ago, given that the Nuggets have missed the playoffs two straight seasons after consistently making it for nearly a decade.

Gallinari returned last season for the first time since blowing out his knee in a game on April 4, 2013. His minutes were closely monitored early in the season. He never really got completely on track until late last season, when he averaged 20.5 points over the final 10 contests, including a career-high 47 against Dallas. He’s hoping to carry that kind of confidence this season.

“I’m good to go. I was good to go as soon as the beginning of last year,” Gallinari said. “I was not on the same page with the coach that we had.”

That would be Brian Shaw, who was fired last March after 1 1/2 seasons in charge and going 56-85. Exactly why he wasn’t on the same page with Shaw, well, Gallinari preferred the past remain the past.

“I’m ready to play the new season,” he said. “We need to win games, and get back to the same level we were before.”

Gallinari thinks the Nuggets have the personnel to do just that, especially with a rookie point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay and Gallinari’s knee feeling better than it has in a while. He feels like he has some ground to make up, too, since he said that knee robbed him of some of his prime.

“Playing my best basketball right before I got injured,” the 27-year old said. “Now, we’re back to the same level, hopefully better.

“My knee has been feeling great. It felt great last year. Feeling great during the summer. Feeling great now. I just feel good.”

He spent the summer playing for the Italian team at the EuroBasket tournament, where he averaged nearly 18 points a game. In those games, Gallinari saw quite a bit of time at the four spot on the floor, forcing teams to either use a bulkier big man to cover him and risk getting burned on a drive or a smaller player that Gallinari could simply shoot over.

Malone plans to employ a similar type approach, something they discussed over gelato when the coach visited Gallinari in Italy soon after he was hired.

“He’s 6-foot-10. He can handle the ball. He can play pick-and-roll. He can stretch the floor and shoot the 3,” Malone said. “There’s not a lot he can’t do offensively.”

Gallinari wants the responsibility of being the go-to player for the Nuggets this season, especially at crunch time.

“I’ve always been trying to do that, since I came to Denver,” Gallinari said. “That’s what I like to do. I feel good filling those shoes.

“I want to have the ball in my hands. I do want to have the ball in my hands a lot more.”

Knicks’ Rookie Jerian Grant gets up, throws it down (VIDEO)

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The Knicks did well trading for Jerian Grant on date night — he’s going to be able to walk in this year and play quality minutes off the bench.

And, he can get up and throw it down.

Carmelo Anthony had 18 points to lead the Knicks to a 94-88 win over the Sixers.